Student Privacy and Self-Promotion in Social Media Education

The following is my paper and presentation for the Marketing Management Association Fall 2012 Educators’ Conference in Minneapolis (well, Bloomington, actually).

Students in higher education enter class with varying degrees of social media experience, skill, and comfort. Traditional age students that grew up with technology, often called “digital natives” (Prensky) use the Internet and social media with the same facility their instructors have navigating the Dewey Decimal system. However, these same students bring a sense of infallibility regarding online safety and privacy. Nontraditional-aged students possess diverse Internet-usage skill sets, but I have found them to be more aware of privacy issues. In three years of teaching social media, I have yet to meet a student who’s actually read Facebook’s privacy policy.

The principle issue is balancing safety and self-promotion. Students must learn best practices of Internet safety and maintaining online privacy while harnessing the power of social media to establish their marketing expertise and find a job.

Marketing curriculum can address these issues by incorporating the following subjects:  the fallacy that anything on the Internet is private, utilizing basic common sense when establishing online accounts, Internet anonymity, current privacy legislation, and social media for self promotion.

  • First, students must learn that nothing is private on the Internet—a fact that is easily documented in litigation. Because nothing is private, no one ought to post anything that they might regret later. To limit exposure on the Internet, everyone should take basic precautions to preserve their anonymity such as using unique passwords and non-identifying email addresses when registering for online accounts, using non-identifying account names, and disabling Facebook public searches.
  • Browsing privately is a popular topic in blogs and wikis. The easiest method is to individually adjust the privacy settings on each browser used. However, this can be cumbersome and easily forgotten to set each time since it renders the search experience superficial. Proxy servers, virtual private networks (VPNs), or private encryption services, such as Spotflux provide a more sophisticated and thorough solution for browsing privacy.
  • Blogs can teach copyright and intellectual property rights through creative commons licensure, the Gutenberg project, and simply APA or MLA reference rules. Privacy legislation changes frequently. Students should be aware of SOPA (Stop Online Privacy Act) and ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) in the United States and the EU Data Protection Reform (Reding) known colloquially as “the right to be forgotten.”
  • Lastly, social media is a powerful tool for self-promotion. Students can maintain professional blogs to demonstrate their marketing, social media, and analytical expertise, as well as writing ability. Connecting professionally with fellow students, professors, and work colleagues on a professional social network such as LinkedIn aids job search and also establishes professional credibility.

Fortunately, I have yet to encounter a student who is unwilling to set-up any online accounts. When I require students to maintain WordPress, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts, I employ the concepts outlined above. Given that all of my students are business majors or are interested in social media, they are willing to open these accounts. If I were to have an unwilling student, my solution would be to create a random free email account and provide her access for the duration of the course as the basis for opening online accounts. This solution presents some risk to me since the student could change the account password and I would lose access, however as long as the random account is not linked to any of my email or online accounts, the risk would be minimal.

As presented, it’s creditable that Internet privacy and copyright issues are an integral part of social media education. By incorporating them into social media marketing theory and hands-on social media instruction, students learn to both protect themselves and respect intellectual property in their own social media usage—personal or professional.

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